Many people will have first come across the novel by Stephen King, The Green Mile, without actually knowing it was ever a book written by the famous author. The novel was first written in serial form in 1996 but was then made into a film in 1999, starring Tom Hanks and nominated for 4 Academy Awards, included the prestigious category of ‘Best Picture’ as well as ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’.
Originally the book was published as 6 separate short stories in 1996, the first published in March and then each month until the last one in the series released in the August of the same year. All of the stories were then published as a single book in the May of the following year and 3 years later the book was made available as a hardback.
The story by Stephen King, The Green Mile is set at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, a fictitious location although heavily influenced by Louisiana State Penitentiary. The story is told as the 1st person narrative of one of the main characters Paul Edgecombe, switching between a present 1996, where he is an elderly resident of a nursing home and his time as a supervisory prison guard of the death row block at Cold Mountain Penitentiary in 1932.
The book’s title comes from the nickname given to the building that housed the death row prisoners; it had a green linoleum floor and was known as the green mile. The story revolves around a new arrival to ‘the green mile’, John Coffey, an African American who has been convicted of raping and murdering 2 young white girls and his interaction with his fellow death row inmates.
King often writes about good versus evil and has used many different mediums to portray this ongoing struggle. None are more cleverly written than the juxtaposition that is Coffey, he is a huge man at 6ft 8in tall and strong and yet he is the most gentle and serene character in the book. He is accused of terrible crimes and yet he seems incapable of hurting anyone. In fact Coffey has a healing gift which Edgecombe learns about and the story cleverly provokes readers into thinking about morality, the sense of justice amongst other emotions as Coffey’s innocence is learnt but he accepts his fate to escape the violence and darkness in the world.
Between the time that Coffey arrives at Cold Mountain, we learn about Edgecombe’s colleagues most of whom are upstanding and decent human beings doing a tough job. Then there is Percy Wetmore, a young sadistic guard who is there through a family connection. The inmates are also mostly repentant of their crimes apart from William Wharton who seems incapable of feeling remorse for any of his crimes. When all of these characters are placed in the high pressure environment of the green mile, King is able to truly explore the depths of human nature and emotion.
Stephen King, The Green Mile manages to deliver a thoroughly gripping yet original and heart-breaking story, the prison guards and the prisoners have a depth of character that makes them empathetic and thoroughly believable. The green Mile showcases the talent that King has as a writer, not just as a horror writer but as one of the great fiction writers of the 20th century.